State Rep. Jon Santiago this week finds himself continuing to care for patients on the front lines of the COVID-19 battle, while at the same time making the ballot and kicking off his re-election campaign to the State Legislature – a campaign that finds him with no opponent in his quest for a second term.
When the Sun last talked with Rep. Santiago in March, the Emergency Room doctor at Boston Medical Center was just preparing for what might or might not have been a tough few weeks.
It ended up being a tough 12 weeks, and counting.
“The update now is we were able to control the surge in mid-April and level things off in April,” he said. “We were able to galvanize space in the hospital and staff and get PPE so we didn’t get to a point where we had to ration care…Fortunately, we were able to prevent that.”
Santiago has upped his working hours at the hospital, he said, going from working every other weekend to every weekend. He also took some time off, but decided to volunteer at the Boston Hope Hospital in the South Boston Convention Center. There, he treated the homeless and vulnerable populations who were sick with COVID-19.
Santiago said at the peak in mid-April, BMC was treating about 225 patients with COVID-19, but by the end of last week, they had dropped to treating 60 admitted patients with COVID-19.
While that has been a relief, Santiago said he has been concerned about the push to re-open and doesn’t know if the data supports a quick move to re-start the economy.
“Right now, I don’t think we are there from a public health standpoint to open the economy,” he said. “We’re not where we need to be yet to open.”
He said without a vaccine, and with so many people that did not get COVID-19 and thus have no anti-bodies, there are a lot of vulnerable people out there who get sick on a resurgence. One key number he looks at is the percent of positive tests, which has gone down.
“We’re headed in the right directions with the numbers,” he said. “We had 30 percent testing positive in mid-April. We’re in the low teens. I think there’s still a little way to go. We need to be below 5 percent positive with ample testing.”
Santiago said the pandemic has further enlightened him to the plight of vulnerable communities and people of color and low-income families – and just how the systems in place did not work for them. He said there will be no going back to the way things were, something he is sure of legislatively and medically.
“The virus has exposed to us the health disparities,” he said. “They were long there but this exposed and exacerbated them…We can’t go back to normal because normal didn’t work for certain communities…That’s a lesson learned and one I want to work on in the Legislature and the hospital.”
When not working on the front lines, Santiago has been on the front lines in the State House, advising leadership in the House on the internal COVID-19 Task Force set up by Speaker Bob DeLeo. He is one of five members on that Task Force, and said it has been invigorating.
The worry now has turned to the economic issues that are going to hit the state very soon.
“Like I said about the virus getting worse before it gets better, I say the same about the economy,” he said. “The economic issue will get worse before it gets better.”
The State Budget has been completely scrapped for the moment as revenues and expenditures – as well as federal reimbursements – are in the queue or are uncertain.
Already, Santiago has participated remotely in the first few historic online votes on legislation in the House.
“We’re going to take up more difficult pieces of legislation in the near future, but as we get more accustomed to it,” he said. “I think we’re up to the challenge…It’s going to be a process to get out of this, and it’s going to be a long process. I’m confident, though, we’ll bounce back stronger than we were before.”
Santiago said he is excited for pursuing a second term, and noted that the time has gone by quickly since he was first elected two years ago. He said while COVID-19 has dominated the discussion, there are still issues in the neighborhoods that he said need addressing – such as the opioid epidemic in the South End and the Hynes Convention Center sale in the Back Bay.
“The way I practice politics is to be present and listening and learning from my constituents and neighbors and taking that to the State House,” he said. “It’s what I did before COVID-19 and what I’ll do after it…I look forward to being the representative of the 9th Suffolk District if the voters will have me for a second term.”